On this day: Rafael Nadal prevails against Fabio Fognini to win Hamburg crown

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On this day: Rafael Nadal prevails against Fabio Fognini to win Hamburg crown

Rafael Nadal was forced to skip the Paris Masters and the ATP Finals in 2014 with appendicitis, undergoing surgery on November 3. The Spaniard couldn't find the rhythm after lifting the trophy at Roland Garros 2014, struggling with form and injuries and not making the best start in 2015.

Losing in the quarter-final at the Australian Open and Indian Wells, Rafa couldn't deliver his best tennis on clay like in the previous decade, failing to win the title during the spring swing for the first time since 2004 and barely standing in the top-10.

Nadal bounced back in Stuttgart, winning the first ATP title on grass in five years before painful losses at Queen's and Wimbledon, taking a couple of weeks off and deciding to enter Hamburg at the end of July. It was Nadal's first post-Wimbledon ATP event on clay since Stuttgart 2007 and the first appearance in Hamburg since winning the title in 2008.

Rafa didn't make a good start in his first match since that stunning loss to Dustin Brown at Wimbledon, losing the opening set against Fernando Verdasco before storming over the compatriot, dropping two games in sets two and three.

Things were not much better in round two versus the young Czech Jiri Vesely, with Rafa suffering four breaks in a hard-fought 6-4, 7-6 victory that required two hours and 11 minutes. Former champion raised his level in the quarter-final, toppling Pablo Cuevas and racing past Andreas Seppi to find himself in the title match.

There, Rafa battled against Fabio Fognini, ousting the Italian 7-5, 7-5 in two hours and 34 minutes for the third title of the season and the biggest one since Roland Garros a year ago. The Spaniard won 14 points more than the Italian but had to work hard to secure the triumph, fending off nine out of 14 break chances and securing seven breaks to seal the deal before the decider.

Fognini had twice as many winners than Nadal, keeping the points on his racquet but spraying 60 unforced errors to ruin his opportunities to grab at least a set. Fabio was there to challenge Rafa in the more extended exchanges, losing ground in the quickest rallies where the Spaniard secured his victory.

The opening game turned into open war, and Fognini converted the fourth break chance after 12 minutes.

Rafa pulled the break back in the very next game when Fabio netted a forehand, only to repeat the same mistake in the next one to find himself 2-1 down.

After 30 minutes, we were yet to see a hold, as Nadal broke back for the second time in game four to level the score at 2-2. The 11th game was another marathon one, with Rafa saving a break point thanks to a perfect drop shot, stealing Fognini's serve with a return winner to take the opener 7-5 in 77 minutes!

Fabio repelled three break chances in the second game of the second set, unable to repeat that two games later when his forehand landed long to push Rafa 3-1 in front. The Spaniard couldn't control a forehand in the next game to bring Fognini back to the positive side of the scoreboard, earning another break at 3-3 with a drop shot winner to move in front.

From 40-15 down in game eight, Rafa climbed back to take four straight points and erase the deficit, only to get broken again a few minutes later. Earning two set points on serve, Fognini squandered a massive chance to grab the set and stay alive, allowing Rafa to break back but creating more opportunities on the return in game 11.

Remaining calm, Rafa denied three break points to gather boost, rattling off four straight points on the return at 6-5 to cross the finish line and celebrate the first ATP 500 title in a year and a half.